What To Look For When Buying a Used Car
If you’re in the market for a used car, there are many things to consider such as the dealership, vehicle history report and the physical inspection of the car. Below, we explain some of the most important factors of buying a used car and things you should consider before purchasing.
Once you find a used car you’re interested in, it’s important to research the dealership you’ll be purchasing from. Looking at online reviews about the dealership and researching where they source their inventory (most are sourced from trade-ins) will allow you to see if they are a reputable dealer.
Used Car Inspection
A dealership doesn’t pick just any used car to place on their lot. Every used car must go through a multipoint inspection with a highly-trained technician rigorously testing it top to bottom, front to back, inside and out to ensure it’s safe, in proper condition and ready for the road.
- Visual: Inspect the tires, engine, lights, safety features, and condition of the vehicle’s exterior and interior.
- Mechanical: Perform a complete mechanical inspection that covers every aspect of the vehicle, inside and out.
- Road Test: Thorough road test to check the ease of the starting vehicle, performance and ride quality.
Vehicle History Report
Most dealerships provide a CARFAX vehicle history report on every car they sell. This report includes vehicle registration, title information, odometer readings, accident history, service and repair information, accident indicators (airbag deployment) and frame/structural damage. Below, is a list of “red flags” and things that are often overlooked on a vehicle history report.
Frequent Ownership Changes
The bottom of the CARFAX report will state the owners of the vehicle. If you see there are multiple owners that bought and sold the car within a short span of time, it may mean the car has some type of challenging repair issue.
Passed Emissions Testing
In metropolitan areas, there’s often a significant portion of trade-ins that don’t pass an emissions test. Almost everywhere in the United States, it’s illegal to sell you a car that doesn’t have a current emissions record. So if you see multiple failed emissions tests or if the most recent test is well over a year, we recommend bringing it up to your dealer.
It’s common for most people to ignore where the used car has lived most of its life. Even if the car has a clean CARFAX history, you should consider the potential problem of rust. Does the car come from snow streets or a sandy beach? Sometimes CARFAX will even flag certain used cars registered in areas that experience severe flooding or hurricanes.
There are many benefits of purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle. These certified pre-owned vehicles come with additional warranty coverage past the new vehicle limited warranty — sometimes up to 100,000 miles or unlimited mileage. Certified pre-owned warranty coverage is so extensive it often covers almost everything on your car other than maintenance, tires, wear items and accident damage. Coverage typically includes fuel system, engine, steering, cooling system, transmission, brakes, suspension, climate controls, electrical and radio and navigation.
Other benefits include rigorous inspections, special financing (sometimes as low as 0.9% APR), vehicle history reports and roadside assistance. Plus the majority of certified pre-owned program warranties are transferable which means increased value should you choose to sell your vehicle in the future.
What To Physically Look For On A Used Car
Even though the used car goes through a rigorous car inspection, we recommend physically checking the car yourself to ensure nothing was overlooked and it meets your standards.
Check the paint job to see if there’s any rust spots, dents or scratches.
Check the trunk to make sure it’s in good condition — no signs of rust or water entry due to cracks or holes.
Check the tires to ensure they are all worn evenly. Also look at the surface of the tire for bad alignment.
Check the saddle (connects the front fenders and holds the top of the radiator) to inspect the bolt heads at the top of the fenders inside the hood. Scratch marks may indicate the fenders have been realigned or replaced after a crash.
- Exhaust System
Check for any black spots on the exhaust system because it can indicate any leaking.
Under the Hood Inspection
Check under the hood for any indication of dents, rust or damage.
- Hoses and Belts
The radiator hoses should be soft and should not have any cracks.
Check the engine for any leaks or corrosion — dark brown oil stains on the engine block may lead to expensive repairs in the future.
Remove the oil cap to ensure there’s no foam residue.
- Transmission Dipstick
When you pull the transmission dipstick the fluid should be pink or red. In an older car it may be dark, but it shouldn’t look or smell burnt.
Check the seats and upholstery for any stains, rips, tears or other damage.
- Air Conditioning
Turn on the car to see if the air conditioning works well.
Checking the odometer is important because the mileage indicates the car’s age.
- Lights and Electronics
Check the lights and regular functions of the car when it’s not moving — any sensors for parking, backup camera, CD, radio, music installation, etc.